WATERLOO — When Lamont Muhammad worked with the Literacy Through Hip-Hop summer program, he saw an approach to engaging students that could continue during the school year.
This fall, Muhammad started a hip-hop literacy program at Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence, where he is a fourth-grade teacher. Currently, 10 fourth-graders — nine boys and a girl — participate in the twice-weekly after-school program.
As they worked on writing raps, he taught the children about synonyms and rhyming patterns “which is all very important within hip-hop.”
Muhammad has experience writing his own raps as someone who has performed hip-hop in the past. In recent years, he has begun writing self-published children’s books, starting with “I Am!” last year. Several months ago, he released his second book, “I Can.”
Both books are written in rhyme. “I Can” focuses on the positive things children are capable of doing, particularly in school. “I try to cover all the educational aspects,” he said.
He steers students in the after-school program in similar directions. In the case of one of the two songs they have already written, students latched onto a theme very similar to their teacher’s book. The song is also called “I Can.”
Students go through a collaborative process to come up with an idea and create a rap. They agree on a theme with each person writing their own stanza. But input is always welcome from others in the group.
“We just helped each other rhyme,” said Kyle Kuecker, one of the group members.
“We came up with words and found words to rhyme with them,” added Tyre Kelly, another group member.
Muhammad has seen students’ writing skills get stronger, along with their research and speaking skills.
Performance is an important part of the program, and students have already been recording their songs with the help of TMG Services and The Teknitions studio downtown. Students choose beats from a library of sounds to accompany their raps.
Christian Stayton came to Cunningham from the studio during a session before the winter break to help plan a video shoot for “I Can.” He was working with five of the students, who “story boarded” some of their ideas for the song.
Eventually, the students were telling him those ideas after he played each stanza. Then the whole group traipsed around the school looking at the various locations.
The boys really enjoy being part of the program. That came through as each sang along with the recording of their stanza on “I Can.” All the boys memorized what they had written and Stayton watched as they sang to ensure it would match up well with the recording.
Student Rico Jordan said “because I love rapping” he has stuck with the program.
“We all like to rap,” added Kuecker.